All year, the Kansas City Chiefs have been doubted in different areas of their game. Just on the defensive side of the ball alone, we heard for months that trading away Dee Ford was an awful decision. Adding Frank Clark to replace him, turned out to be a good decision in the end. For starters, Clark is a much more complete player. He can stop the run or screen passes, not just rushing the passer. The mentality being brought to the table is much more in tune with what this Chiefs team was looking for in 2019 and beyond.
Now during this eight game winning streak, the Chiefs defense has done what was needed to win the games. However, if there is an area where there can be some plausible doubt, it is the run defense. It took the players a while to fix this issue. But now, they are plugging up running lanes and filling their gaps. And oh yeah, they just shut down the hottest runner in the league, Derrick Henry.
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Not Good Enough?
Despite holding Henry to under 100 yards, not everyone believes the Chiefs defense should be praised. Kyle Brandt of Good Morning Football on NFL Network talked about this after Sunday’s game: https://twitter.com/gmfb/status/1219363973562159104
If you look at this performance, it was the first time since Week 8 that the Tennessee Titans had been held under 100 rushing yards. Henry is known to be just as effective in the second half of games, compared to the first. How much of his 69 yards came in the second half? Just seven measly yards. Again, the Titans threw the ball a lot more in this game than their other playoff contests. Either way, the Chiefs defense held the bell cow back to 3.6 yards per carry- his lowest since Week 6.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had a neatly designed plan to slow down the Titans rushing attack. He often placed one safety single high, forcing other defensive backs to press the opposing receivers near the line of scrimmage. Then, the Chiefs crowded the box with their front seven.
Due to this design, the Tennessee offensive line could not get a free release to move up to the second level. Kansas City also overwhelmed them with ease. Clark backed up his words surrounding Henry from earlier in the weekend. Chris Jones made life tough for the Titans, despite playing under 50 percent of the snaps in his return to the fold. Terrell Suggs made a presence by sweeping straight down the line to catch Henry from behind. Many of the Chiefs defenders made formed tackles. As the game wore on, you could see Henry was feeling the effects and started to get up much more slowly.
Tennessee was looking to relish in what had got them to this point in the AFC Championship Game. Yet, the Chiefs defense was ready for it. In this same spot last year, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead ran all over them for a combined 154 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. This was the Chiefs biggest weakness from the end of that game, all the way up to the playoffs.
We know the media will try to paint the same exact picture leading up to the Super Bowl. And rightfully so. The San Francisco 49ers have one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the entire league. When Tevin Coleman is healthy, there is confusion as to what they will try to do. San Francisco has so many options at their disposal, with each back having different abilities and styles. Along with Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida make for a dangerous three headed monster. Kyle Juszczyk is also one of the best blocking fullbacks in football, if not the best. The 49ers are deadly with designed cutback runs. But, why? It all has to do with head coach Kyle Shanahan. His dad, Mike, lived off of dynamic rushing attacks as a head coach himself. Now, Kyle has continued that trend. The Chiefs will have their hands full. Nonetheless, they will be up for the challenge, just like the AFC Championship Game.
Give credit to Chiefs general manger Brett Veach for making the necessary changes to the defense this offseason and during the course of the year. We already talked a little about Clark and Suggs. Meanwhile, Mike Pennel has been a major force in the middle of the defensive line. This guy’s energy fits the exact attitude that the team has envisioned. Khalen Saunders and Juan Thornhill both continued to grow as rookies throughout the season. NFL fans should get to know those player’s names. Furthermore, we know what kind of match Tyrann Mathieu has been for the Chiefs. He embodies everything you want in a player and as a leader. No other defensive back moves around to different positions and excels in them as much the Honey Badger.
Veach knew they had to get faster, younger and mentally tougher on this side of the ball. The changes allowed Kansas City to become a much more complete team that plays together as a unit. And now, they have just one last step to climb from proving those doubters wrong once again.
We will continue to provide coverage of the Super Bowl and Kansas City Chiefs during the next two weeks. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.